Saturday, August 23, 2008

Swansea Find #1: D.R. & Quinch

So: when I was in Wales last month, in a seaside town called Swansea, without much to do, I found myself poking around in the retail outlets, shopping absent-mindedly for comics and other random junk. I've got three of these posts planned, each focusing on a single piece of cultural flotsam. (You can picture me collecting them like driftwood or beach glass. Here is a picture of the beach in Swansea, to help you imagine:

... and to help you see why I was reduced to shopping.)

Anyway, on one of my idle perambulations, I stumbled upon an old shopping arcade—an indoor hallway with shops on either side of it—in which I found one Comix Shoppe. The guys working there turned out to be friendly and informative. When I asked what they might have that was local and interesting and hard to find in the States, they were stumped at first. There was one local minicomic that looked pretty clumsy; otherwise, the guy said, "You [Americans] pinch all our good writers," so pretty much everything recent was easier to get in the States.

... And then he realized that I wouldn't have seen the recent reprints of material from 2000 A.D.. He had a nice run of Judge Dredd reprints, and a near-complete run of Strontium Dog reprints, but I shied away from those, and even from Nemesis the Warlock, mainly because I wouldn't have much room in my suitcase to carry home several phone-book-sized collections. But I was willing to buy this little gem:

It's the most recent edition of The Complete D. R. & Quinch, and for those of you who didn't click on the image to enlarge it, let me point out that it's a sustained collaboration between Alan Moore and Alan Davis, who were also putting out their Captain Britain and Marvelman stories around this time. But this no deconstruction of the superhero genre: it's sci-fi teen-comedy surrealist mayhem of a fairly high order.

Waldo "D.R." Dobbs (the "D. R." is for "Diminished Responsibility") and Ernest Errol Quinch are teenaged aliens with short attention spans, devious plans, and tactical nuclear weaponry. They first appear in a slight "Time Twister" story that parodies the von Däniken / 2001 notion that human history was shaped by alien visitors.

D. R. and Quinch time-travel through human history, carefully arranging things so that when Earth people get a space program, make alien contact, and petition for membership in the League of Disadvantaged Planets, the visible coastlines of Earth's continents spell out a rude message directed at the dean of their college. It's a fun story with plenty of one-off gags, and the final plot twist isn't bad for a short piece of this type.

The hyperviolent, sneering, disaffected teens were popular with 2000 A.D.'s early-'80s fanbase (for some reason), so Moore and Davis brought them back several times, in longer and more convoluted stories that gradually turned one-joke caricatures into characters with a shadow of depth. Moore's humor leans away from anarchic sneering and into surrealist satire. He's not known as a comic writer (I mean, he writes comics, but not comically), but Moore is capable of putting together some pretty funny stuff, and his timing is good.

But I didn't plunk down nine pounds for Alan Moore's sense of humor. I bought the book because I like Alan Davis's creature designs. He does some innovative and interesting aliens. Here are D. R. and Quinch walking out of a photobooth they've just disintegrated, in an outer-space bus station.

The character designs in this book are a lot of fun.

The guy at the Comix Shoppe also strongly recommended "the joke about Marlon Brando," and a familiar-looking alien named Marlon does turn out to be a major plot point in "D. R. and Quinch Go to Hollywood." That's not the Hollywood on Earth, "which was, like, this completely worthless scumball planet that me and Quinch destroyed one time"; there's a planet Hollywood in this version of outer space. On that planet, Marlon is a big-name star who insists that he play the lead in D. R.'s movie, even though the title at that point is just "Something Something Oranges Something." Here's a script reading:

(Count those fingers: Marlon only looks human. Alan Davis has fun with alien appendages. I was most of the way through the book when I realized that D. R.'s girlfriend Crazy Chryssie has a thumb on either side of each palm.)

As it turns out, the script is illegible, but Marlon is unintelligible and illiterate to boot. (The illiteracy might be a sort of garbled joke about Brando's insistence on reading from cue cards rather than memorizing his lines, but I think it's probably just a riff on the way he mumbles.) So unable to read is our lead actor that he cannot see the warning sign about not pulling an orange from the pyramid of sixteen thousand oranges on the soundstage. The result turns out to be the defining moment in a chaotic mishmash that D. R. markets as a film:

And that's why the movie winds up being called Mind the Oranges, Marlon.

Digression: The joke about Marlon Brando's elocution isn't a new one, of course. When I was looking over that script-reading scene, it occurred to me that the timing was almost Kurtzmanian; then I remembered that Kurtzman and Elder's Goodman Beaver take a similar shot at Brando, in the era when On the Waterfront made him a heartthrob. Goodman Beaver puts on Brando's mannerisms in order to catch the eye of a woman who is ignoring him:

Anyway, D. R. & Quinch is certainly not Moore's finest work; it's not even his finest work of the period. (This is roughly the same era when V for Vendetta and Marvelman were appearing in Warrior.) I don't even think it's his funniest material of this era. (That laurel wreath goes to the Bojeffries Saga strips.) But it does have more than its share of interesting moments, and Alan Davis's space-alien cartooning looks very good to me. In light of the last few years in movies-made-from-comics, however, it might be interesting to revisit "D. R. & Quinch Go to Hollywood," for Moore's take on hollow, know-nothing movie culture written almost two decades before LXG.


Anonymous said...

DR & QUINCH of course was inspired by/ripped off from the National Lampoon characters OC & STIGGS, which was later made into a movie.
DR & Q is much more worthwhile for the Davis art than Moore's jokes, but it's quite pleasant nonetheless.

--Rob Clough

Isaac said...

Yeah, I was going to mention the "O.C. & Stiggs" thing -- there's an interesting review of the movie in the Onion A.V. Club's "My Year of Flops" series -- but I couldn't find any images of the National Lampoon original. I didn't hunt very hard.

The second plot in D. R. & Quinch seems particularly reminiscent / swiped -- even unto having a crazed military vet causing havoc at the house of the despised authority figure the teens have targeted.

Snooj said...

Amazing invention, this Internet. I read a friend's copy of the complete DR & Quinch nearly a decade ago and I found myself this afternoon reminiscing about the Oranges story. I Google it and what pops up but a review, merely a week old, of said fiction.

Even as an avid comic collector, I found DR & Quinch difficult to grasp at first. It wasn't offensive for the sake of being offensive like similar comics, but it read more like a hidden reality cam trained on the lives of two unapologetic juvenile delinquents. It took multiple readings before I really could start enjoying it, but the fantastic art and storylines make the multiple readings worthwhile.

A great way to spend an afternoon for anyone. Just don't give it to your kids. ;-)

Isaac said...

I actually think that one source of weirdness in D. R. & Quinch is that while the readers of 2000 A. D. probably enjoyed the rip-snorting, anti-authoritarian, shoot-'em-the-bird antics of the title characters, Moore seems to have intended the stories as satires, at least to some degree, of the vapid, revenge-driven, ultraviolent teens.

To put it another way: if you read V for Vendetta, you can see that Moore around this time was actually more interested in a pretty different sort of rebellion, and a pretty different flavor of anarchy.